Outdoor Cats – Harmful to Birds and to Cats Themselves

Outdoor Cats – Harmful to Birds and to Cats Themselves

So this is one topic that I knew from the start that I needed to cover in a blog post. It is one of the most highly debated and divisive topics in bird conservation. Both cat owners and bird conservationists/birders are very passionate on their beliefs and it is a struggle to convince either side otherwise. This debate isn’t a new one. However, in the past few years it has become increasingly clear the impacts outdoor cats have on wildlife, especially birds.

Photo credit: https://www.treehugger.com/should-you-let-your-cat-outside-4863677 
(Photo from Puchan on Shutterstock)

Now, you probably can guess which side of the debate I’m on if you have read any of my blogs. However, I do not want to take this whole post just to give my personal opinions and stories on why outdoor cats are a threat to wildlife and bird conservation. I want to focus mainly on the pros and cons for the cat specifically. For anyone reading this blog who is on the side of bird conservation doesn’t really need to learn anything from this post. We all know why outdoor cats are a danger to birds. Cats either catch and injure or catch and kill birds. A whopping 2.4 BILLION birds are killed annually in the United States alone. According to the American Bird Conservancy,

“Outdoor domestic cats are a recognized threat to global biodiversity. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in the wild and continue to adversely impact a wide variety of other species, including those at risk of extinction such as Piping Plover.  The ecological dangers are so critical that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists domestic cats as one of the world’s worst non-native invasive species.”

My hope for this blog post is that cat owners of outdoor felines will read and understand these facts I present and make a change for the sake of their cat. I hate to say it, but many of us won’t change our ways unless there is some benefit to us and our family. Cat owners have to see that owning cats with an outdoor lifestyle really impacts the well-being and survival of their cats too, not just the birds!

Before jumping into the cons and how you can recreate the pros of the outdoor cat lifestyle inside the home, I want to leave you with some numbers.  About one fourth to one third of American’s 86 million cats are outdoor felines.  That should give you an idea of how large a threat outdoor cats are to birds and other wildlife.  

Dangers for Outdoor Cats

  • Disease – With around 60 million feral cats in the US, there are plenty of diseases that outdoor domesticated cats are exposed to.  Some of these diseases are Feline Leukemia, Feline AIDS, and upper respiratory infections.
Photo credit: https://canna-pet.com/leukemia-in-cats/
  • Parasites – Although not as life-threatening as the diseases listed above, there are many parasites that outdoor cats can pick up such as ticks, intestinal worms, ringworm, and ear mites.  They can not only cause moderate to severe symptoms in the cat, but they can also be brought back to the home and infect the humans of the house.  
  • Cars – While many are under the impression that cats instinctively avoid busy roads, this is unfortunately not the case and cats are frequently hit by cars.  
Photo credit: https://jerseyeveningpost.com/news/2016/11/19/road-death-law-cats-different-from-dogs/
  • Animal Cruelty – I’m sure we are all aware by now that humans can be cruel.  Not only to our own kind, but also to other species.  Free-ranging outdoor cats are at risk of people shooting at them with BB guns or trapping and abusing them “for fun”.  
  • Wildlife – Outdoor cats are commonly attacked by native wildlife that have adapted to urban life.  Animals such as coyotes, foxes, and raccoons commonly attack outdoor cats.  The injuries sustained from these attacks are often very serious and fatal.  
Photo credit: https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/sacramento/midtown-cat-coyotes/103-7c08eb70-1250-4db9-90a0-875c774828f0

Now, after looking at that list, you would think that cat owners would see how dangerous it is to allow their cats to roam free outdoors.  However, the main argument used by cat owners as a negative to indoor cats is lack of exercise and increased boredom.  Sure, a cat might get more exercise and more mental stimulation if they have the outdoors to roam free in, however, the risks outweigh this factor.  There are ways to decrease boredom and increase exercise in indoor cats.  Interacting with them and playing daily helps mental stimulation, as does getting another cat companion or providing places to climb and perch on throughout the house.  There are also two options growing in popularity for getting outdoor time; walking on a leash and/or installing a “Catio”.  I know, I know; not all cats will walk on a leash.  

Photo credit: www.adventurecats.org

But don’t count your cat out until you give it an honest effort!

Photo credit: www.adventurecats.org

Thats where the Catio comes in!

They can be small and simple…

Or as large and complex as you’d like!

The cat gets outdoor time, but avoids all the negative risks to its safety as well as avoiding the temptation to stalk and hunt birds and other wild animals.

So, to end this post that I could definitely make a lot longer, I want to encourage outdoor cat owners to really consider the facts. For the sake of your cat, as well as the native birds and other wildlife, please consider keeping your cats indoors!

I’d like to leave you with this quote by Pete Marra, who has determined that outdoor cats are the #1 human-influenced cause of dead birds. 

“They [birds] pollinate plants, spread seeds, control insects, and protect environments from the effects of climate change; they are the glue that binds healthy ecosystems together.  Birds are critical.” 


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